9 Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs: Identifying Garden Mimics

Boxelder bugs are common insects, often seen congregating on walls, looking for warmth and shelter during the fall season.

They are harmless to humans and do not cause structural damage. They can, however, be a pest if they congregate in large numbers.

These black and red-striped bugs might be mistaken for other similar-looking pests.

Eastern Boxelder Bug

It’s essential to distinguish different bugs, as their methods of control and potential harm to humans or property may vary.

Let’s dive into some of these similar insects and discuss their characteristics.

Identifying Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs

Physical Characteristics

Boxelder bugs are small, black insects with distinct red markings.

Adults measure about 1/2 inch in length and have an oval shape with two antennae.

Their wings host diagonal red lines, while their thorax displays three red lines.

Nymphs are similar in appearance but tend to be smaller and lack fully developed wings2.

Some key physical features of boxelder bugs to remember are:

  • Black color
  • Oval shape
  • Red markings on wings and thorax
  • Two antennae

Habitats and Habits

These bugs are typically found around boxelder and some maple trees3.

They seek warmth and shelter, often congregating on sunny walls with western or southern exposure and light-colored surfaces in the early fall4.

Boxelder bugs’ habits can be summed up with the following bullet points:

Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs: Common Lookalikes and Differences

Eastern Boxelder Bug vs. Western Boxelder Bug

Eastern and Western boxelder bugs are two closely related species. Both are part of the Rhopalidae family and their young look similar.

How to differentiate: Key differences between Eastern (Boisea trivittata) and Western boxelder bugs (Boisea rubrolineata) include:

  • Eastern bugs often have more distinct red markings.
  • Western bugs may have less prominent orange-red markings.
Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs
Western Boxelder Bug

Boxelder Bug vs. Red-Shouldered Bug

Boxelder bugs and red-shouldered bugs may be difficult to distinguish, as both have:

  • Red or orange markings on their bodies
  • Six legs
  • Similar body shape

How to differentiate: red-shouldered bugs are more common in the South and Southwest, while boxelder bugs are found in different regions.

File:Red-shouldered Bug - Jadera haematoloma, Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida.jpg

Red-Shouldered Bug. Source: Judy GallagherCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Squash Bugs

Boxelder bugs and squash bugs share similarities such as:

  • Brownish-gray body color
  • Six legs
  • Oval body shape

How to differentiate: squash bugs are primarily found on squash and pumpkin plants, while boxelder bugs prefer boxelder trees.

Squash Bug

Bordered Plant Bug

Boxelder bugs and bordered plant bugs can be mistaken for each other because of:

  • Their similar size
  • Six legs
  • Red or orange markings

How to differentiate: bordered plant bugs are more commonly found on flowers and plants, while boxelder bugs are associated with boxelder trees.

Bordered Plant Bug

Leaffooted Bugs

Boxelder bugs and leaffooted bugs have resemblances like:

  • Long, oval bodies
  • Six legs
  • Similar body color

How to differentiate: leaffooted bugs have distinct leaf-like extensions on their hind legs, setting them apart from boxelder bugs.

Western Leaf Footed Bug

Kissing Bug

Boxelder bugs and kissing bugs can be confused due to:

  • Similar body shape
  • Six legs
  • Red or orange markings

How to differentiate: kissing bugs are known to transmit Chagas disease, making them more dangerous than the harmless boxelder bug.

Kissing Bug

Western Conifer Seed Bug

Boxelder bugs and western conifer seed bugs share characteristics such as:

  • Long, oval bodies
  • Six legs
  • Winged appearance

How to differentiate: western conifer seed bugs are mostly brown and are associated with pine trees, unlike boxelder bugs.

Western Conifer Seed Bug

European Firebugs

Boxelder bugs and European firebugs can look alike because of:

  • Red and black markings
  • Six legs
  • Similar size

How to differentiate: European firebugs are native to Europe and have distinct patterns on their wings, differentiating them from boxelder bugs.

Firebug

Elm Seed Bug

Boxelder bugs and elm seed bugs can be mistaken for each other due to:

  • Red markings on their bodies
  • Six legs
  • Similar body shape

How to differentiate: Elm seed bugs are smaller and are primarily associated with elm trees, while boxelder bugs prefer boxelder trees.

Elm Seed Bug

Summary Comparison Table

Bug Name Body Shape Color Size Trees/Plants Commonly Found Diseases Transmitted
Eastern Boxelder Bug Oval Black with red markings 12-14 mm Boxelder trees None
Western Boxelder Bug Oval Black with red markings 12-14 mm Boxelder trees None
Red-shouldered Bug Oval Black with red markings 8-11 mm Various trees None
Squash Bug Oval Brownish-gray 15-25 mm Squash and pumpkin plants None
Bordered Plant Bug Oval Green or yellow with red 8-10 mm Flowers and plants None
Leaffooted Bug Long, Oval Brown 20-25 mm Various plants None
Kissing Bug Oval Dark brown with red 14-24 mm Various trees Chagas disease
Western Conifer Seed Bug Long, Oval Brown 15-20 mm Pine trees None
European Firebug Oval Red with black markings 9-12 mm Various plants None
Elm Seed Bug Oval Brown with red markings 6-8 mm Elm trees None

Conclusion

Boxelder bugs, with their distinctive red and black markings, are often mistaken for a variety of other bugs.

While they are harmless and primarily a nuisance, it’s essential to differentiate them from other similar-looking pests, some of which can be harmful or transmit diseases.

This article has provided a comprehensive guide to identifying boxelder bugs and distinguishing them from their common lookalikes.

By understanding their physical characteristics, habitats, and habits, homeowners can make informed decisions about managing these pests and ensuring a safe environment.

Footnotes

  1. Boxelder Bugs – 5.522 – Extension 2
  2. Boxelder bugs | UMN Extension 2
  3. Box elder bugs are a harmless nuisance | OSU Extension Service 2
  4. Stink bugs and boxelder bugs everywhere? | OSU Extension Service 2

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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2 thoughts on “9 Bugs That Look Like Boxelder Bugs: Identifying Garden Mimics”

  1. I have literally millions of these on all of my trees, including maples. Are these harmful to a house structure? As we have now found them on the doorways of our home, as well as our wooden deck. We have had terminix out to spray, but they continue to remain. They are also in mounds close to our house. I have also identified a totally red one. Is that the queen or do these bugs have queens like ants? I would like to know as much about these bugs as I can find out. Thank You.

    Reply

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